Workers of color on average earn $3.71 less an hour than white workers, a survey of 4300 of restaurant employees in eight cities has concluded. Full-time restaurant workers earn an average of $15,000 a year compared with $45,000 a year in the private sector overall, according to the Restaurant Workers Opportunities Center United, an advocacy group that conducted the survey in Miami, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Detroit, New Orleans, Chicago, New York and Portland, Maine.
Oscar Danilo, who joined ROC Miami six months ago, says the report proves that discrimination and abuse in the industry aren’t just problems for a few workers in isolated restaurants. “These problems are inherent in the industry,” he said. “There’s no way to deny it or hide it; the facts are right there. The reports give us the backing that we haven’t had before.”
Even during the Great Recession, the restaurant industry remained relatively robust, having shed jobs at only about 40 percent of the rate as the rest of the economy. And by the end of 2010, unlike other parts of the economy, restaurant employment had nearly recovered to pre-recession levels, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The restaurant industry hires many people without formal credentials, something that benefits new immigrants as well as others with low levels of education, typically categories of people who suffer significantly higher unemployment during economic downturns.
However, in addition to the racial disparities in pay, the survey found nearly 90 percent of restaurant workers have no company health insurance, the vast majority have no paid vacation or sick days, and nearly half complain of uncompensated overtime. ROC stated:
In all eight locations, we found that there are two roads to profitability in the restaurant industry: the “high road” and the “low road.” Restaurant employers who take the high road are the source of the best jobs in the industry — those that provide livable wages, access to health benefits, and advancement in the industry. Taking the low road to profitability, however, creates low-wage jobs with long hours, few benefits, and exposure to dangerous and often-unlawful workplace conditions.
Our research indicates that the majority of restaurant employers in each of the eight regions examined appear to be taking the low road, creating a predominantly low-wage industry in which violations of employment and health and safety laws are commonplace. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national median hourly wage for food preparation and service workers is only $8.89 including tips, which means that half of all restaurant workers nationwide actually earn less.
Sadly, many Americans may be tempted to say "so what"? For those not moved by the human situation in this matter, it should be noted that the social costs are not small. Lack of health care puts stress on public hospitals and low wages make for more pressure on publicly funded social assistance agencies. That means taxpayers subsidize restaurant employers.
The survey found that workers of color are "concentrated in the industry’s 'bad jobs,' while white workers tend to disproportionately hold the few 'good jobs.' The median hourly wage of all white workers surveyed in the eight cities clocked in at $13.25, with that of workers of color at $9.54.
The nationwide minimum wage for tipped restaurant workers is $2.13 and has been since 1991. In 2009, Democratic Rep. Donna Edwards (MD-04) introduced the Working for Adequate Gains for Employment in Services (WAGES) Act, H.R. 2570. Act (H.R 2570) to increase the tipped workers minimum wage to $3.75 within three months of passage, then to $5 an hour in 2011 and no less than $5.50 a hour in 2012, making it 70 percent But the bill went nowhere. On Monday, Edwards reintroduced the bill, now designated H.R. 631. The 12 co-sponsors are listed here. If your Representative is not among them, you might ring him or her up and inquire as to why not.
Among the survey's conclusions:
• 89.7% did not have health insurance provided through their employer
• 87.7% did not have paid sick days.
• 79.4% did not have paid vacation days
• 63.7% worked while sick
• 46.3% suffered from overtime violations
• 28% of those being passed over for a promotion reported that it was based on race